14 Signs That You’re Really Shy—and What to Do About It
Are you shy, or are you an introvert or a quiet person? Experts reveal what makes you “shy” and how to overcome shyness when it’s holding you back.
You wish you could talk more
Introverted or quiet people aren’t necessarily shy, and the difference comes down to comfort level. Introverts aren’t necessarily nervous in social situations; they just prefer smaller groups or quieter settings, says Bernardo J. Carducci, PhD, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. And just because someone isn’t talking much doesn’t mean they’re shy, adds Debra Kissen, PhD, MHSA, clinical director of Light on Anxiety Treatment Center. Some people just choose their words more carefully. Shyness, on the other hand, is more closely related to social anxiety. “Shy people want to be social,” says Carducci. “The problem is, they go [to social outings] but they’re not sure what to do. They don’t know how to talk to people.” Shyness isn’t a character flaw, but if you don’t learn how to control your shyness, it will start to control you.
You feel totally alone
When you’re having trouble mingling, you might convince yourself you’re part of the out crowd. “Shy people think they’re alone, that nobody else is shy but them, and no one else in the room is miserable,” Carducci says. But take comfort: About 40 percent of people consider themselves shy, according to his research. No doubt the people around you are feeling just as awkward, so take charge. Start introducing other guests to each other, recommends Carducci. When you master the art of introductions—maybe two people you met work in similar industries or are from the same city—you’ll look like the charming “social facilitator” who brings people together. Don’t miss these other tips for making a great first impression.
You show up fashionably late
Showing up late to a party sounds like a good idea in theory; arriving after everyone else means you can blend into the background. But that strategy actually makes it harder for shy guests to get comfortable, says Carducci: “People are already talking and chatting and have formed these subgroups and bonds. It’s much harder to break into that kind of conversation.” Resist the urge to sneak in late and instead show up at the start time, he recommends. Introductions are easier with just a small handful of people, so you can get the conversation flowing by the time everyone else arrives.
You don’t know how to start a conversation
Shy people often don’t strike up conversations because they don’t know where to start. A good opening line doesn’t have to be dazzling, though. Commenting on something in your environment is an easy talking point because you can both relate, says Carducci. Chat about the movie you’re lining up to see or the floral arrangements at the wedding you’re attending. “The best opening line is, ‘Nice weather we’re having,’” says Carducci. “When you start simple like that, you make it simple for the other person to respond. It means ‘I’d like to talk to you. Would you like to talk to me?’” Starting simple opens the door to a deeper conversation. Try one of these 37 conversation starters that make you instantly more interesting.
You’re a total chatterbox with your friends
Shy people might seem like completely different people in front of family and close friends. You know your loved ones aren’t judging, so you stress less about saying the right thing around them, says Kissen. To reach that level of comfort with strangers, she recommends purposely doing something slightly embarrassing, like knocking sugar packets over in a coffee shop. Now watch other people’s reactions: They’ll likely glance up for a second, then move on. Taking note of that can help you in future red-faced moments. “You frontal cortex can say rationally that it’s not the end of the world, but your amygdala is terrified of judgment,” says Kissen. As you stop freaking out about what other people are thinking, the logical part of your brain can take over when you’re socializing.
First impressions stress you out
“Shy people … think they have to be brilliant, that they only have one chance to make an impression,” Carducci says. Pressuring yourself to craft the perfect opening line doesn’t just hold you back from starting a conversation. It also sets a high bar of constantly thinking of witty responses. Good small talk doesn’t require a quick wit; all you need to do is be nice, says Carducci. Check out these 11 tricks expert minglers use when making small talk.
You try too hard to avoid saying something stupid
Being shy doesn’t always mean you have nothing to say; it just means you’re not saying it. If something might sound unimpressive or stupid, shy people will keep their mouths shut. “They evaluate themselves out of conversation,” says Carducci. Losing your filter entirely might not make you any friends, but don’t assume no one wants to hear what you have to say. Sharing a story of a similar experience you’ve had or asking follow-up questions shows you’re trying to connect—and that’s what conversation is all about.
You plan out conversations ahead of time
People who aren’t comfortable in social situations tend to rack their brains for conversation topics before heading to an event. You might find yourself mentally rehearsing how you’d talk about weekend plans, current events, or other subjects that might pop up. While Carducci says practicing small talk can calm your nerves, Kissen warns against overthinking it so you don’t get flustered if the script in your head doesn’t pan out. “The more you rehearse, the less fluid and comfortable you’ll be in your own skin,” Kissen says. Have a few go-to questions in mind for long silences, but don’t stress yourself out thinking of the “perfect” answer to any question thrown your way.
You always RSVP “maybe”
If you don’t trust yourself to hold a successful conversation, you might dread social outings. But resist the urge to make up an excuse not to go, says Kissen. The more you debate whether or not to show up, the more worked up you’ll get. Committing to your plans will stop the mental debate so you can put the anxiety out of sight, out of mind until the event rolls around, she says.
It takes a while for you to feel comfortable with new people
While you might feel nervous when you first arrive at a party, you probably come out of your shell more once you’ve gotten into the groove of a conversation. “Shy people need time to warm up; they need time to adjust,” says Carducci. To help yourself warm up, he recommends planning ahead. Leave your house early enough that you’ll be able to figure out parking and other logistics so you don’t feel flustered when you walk in. Steal these other 16 secrets of naturally charming people.
Long silences freak you out
Not every silence is an awkward silence, but shy people tend to catastrophize lulls in conversation. But no, the other person likely isn’t bored or thinking about how stupid your comment was. The other person is probably just thinking about what they’re going to say, says Carducci: “The silence is probably only several seconds long, but because you’re focusing on that silence, it seems like it’s three minutes.” The key is to take your mind off the silence. Think about what you might say next or what the other person told you, he suggests. Memorize the magic phrases that can save any awkward conversation.
You can talk someone’s ear off—but only about one thing
Ironically, shy people can be conversation hogs. When you find a topic you’re comfortable with, you might be tempted to latch on and keep yakking about it. But talking nonstop about one subject doesn’t mean you’ve mastered your shyness. “You’re talking at people, not with people,” says Carducci. To make everyone is actually engaged, he recommends stopping yourself every so often to let someone else talk. If they want to get more in-depth, great! But take the hint if they change the subject.
You use alcohol to loosen up
When social situations make you nervous, you might turn to alcohol to calm down. “People think if they drink, they can be less shy and they can be more social,” says Carducci. “That’s simply false.” The alcohol might dull your anxiety, but inhibiting your thinking will actually work against you, he says. No matter how nervous you are, stick to moderate drinking to keep your mind clear. Don’t start using booze as a crutch and assuming you can’t be social without a drink in hand. Here are 30 better ways to boost your self-confidence instantly.
Your career is stuck because you can’t network
Shyness can get toxic if it’s holding you back from your goals. If you aren’t willing to speak up in meetings or network with people in your industry, you’ll find it hard to work your way up the career ladder. “Their fear of judgment is stronger than the motivation to proceed forward,” says Kissen. “Fear is a very powerful reinforcer because it’s so uncomfortable, versus success, which can feel so far away.” Gaining confidence won’t happen overnight, so Kissen recommends forcing yourself to practice. Go to a speed-networking event to practice talking shop when the stakes feel lower than, say, trying to impress your boss. Next, make sure you know the 14 things confident people never do—so you shouldn’t either.